On Thursday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted 5-0 in favor of starting a petition to temporarily extend Endangered Species Act protections to Southern California and Central Coast populations of mountain lions.
Mountain Lions temporarily protected as an endangered species for a year
The Commission will begin a one year review on mountain lions to see whether they need protections or not. If accepted after the review, mountain lions, or at the very least vulnerable populations of them, would be named permanently as an endangered species. That title would give them a far greater scope of protections than their current designation as ‘specially protected species’, which has been in place since 1990.
Currently a mountain lion can only be killed in California with a depredation permit, and only then it’s limited to protecting livestock and protected species, as well as public safety. Under the Endangered Species Act, killing is strictly prohibited except for protecting other people.
The petition, which was made by the Center for Biological Diversity, was created in response to a declining number of mountain lions in the southern half of the state. Currently there are only between 225 and 510 mountain lions left, with the possibility of extinction in the area in the next few decades. Environmentalists have pointed out that genetic diversity of mountain lions is also falling due to populations being isolated due to highways and few wildlife corridors to connect areas together.
Environmental groups and conservationists praised the decision on Thursday.
“This is a historic moment for big cats,” said Tiffany Yap, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and primary author of the petition. “Wildlife officials deserve a big round of applause for moving to protect these amazing animals.”
Mountain lion advocates were especially supportive of the move.
“Now they might have a chance,” stated Marlene Young, who works for a mountain lion non-profit group. “These guys take care of a lot of smaller wild game out there and help keep populations in check. We need them.”
Farmer, rancher, and developer opposition
Farming and Ranching organizations were among those who opposed the decision.
“Now I can’t kill them,” said Wayne Foster, a rancher who has had livestock attacked by mountain lions. “I had to get these permits to go after a specific cougar before because it killed things I own. And now I can’t do that?”
“This is unbelievably frustrating.”
Developers were also against the move. Many developments have been held in limbo across Southern California because of mountain lion protection concerns, including the Altair development in Temecula. Because of the Endangered Species Act taking effect, they are all effectively put on hold for a year while the Commission decides.
“First it was the coronavirus causing a recession, and now this,” noted construction foreman Alberto Rodriguez, who has worked on projects stalled by environmental concerns before. “A one-year delay is ridiculous, because now projects can be outright cancelled now because of the delay.”
“I like cougars as much as the next person, but they are helping end some contracts and livelihoods now. I hope all those people ‘protecting’ them realize what they’re doing to us.”
While the Commission’s final decision will take a year, many groups on both sides of the debate have hinted at legal action over the decision in the near future.
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